The PlayStation brand is, or at least used to be, synonymous with ‘Japanese Role-Playing Games’. After all, it was the original PlayStation (along with Final Fantasy VII) console that boomed JRPGs into their golden age on the west.
While the PlayStation 2’s historic success (it remains the best selling home console of all time with over 150 million units sold) is due to many factors (GTA III, DVD Playback, etc.) other than JRPGs, the genre remained a strong mainstream one when the PlayStation 2 first launched back in the year 2000.
Millions of JRPG gamers made the transition from the PS1 to the PS2, quite simply because they wanted to play the next great Final Fantasy entry, and Sony (and its PlayStation brand) had exclusive claims to the series (and other Square Enix big hitters) at that point in time.
Given the JRPGs were immensely popular during the PS2’s heyday, we have taken up the task of ranking the console’s best selling game within this genre.
10. Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht (2002) – 1 Million Copies Sold
Xenogears is one of the greatest JRPGs of all time, and its ending implied that the game was episode ‘V’ of larger series. Clearly, Tetsuya Takahashi’s vision for what he (and his wife) started under Square Soft never quite materialized as Xenosaga Episode 1 would have to been developed and released instead under Namco.
Takahashi departed Squaresoft to create its own development company (Monolith Soft) partly because Xenogears was planned as a six part episode series, but Squaresoft decided to leave the game as a stand alone title, thus killing off Takahashi’s masterplan for a multi-episode Xenogears franchise.
At the time, Squaresoft was focused on Final Fantasy and did not want invest in the more money into Takahashi’s proposed franchise. Xenogears much maligned ‘rushed’ second disc was a result of Squaresoft losing patience with the game missing its development deadline, and their refusal to keep funding the project.
Given the fact that Xenogears received positive press coverage, and sold over a 900,000 copies, it was a no brainer that Xenosaga: Episode One (a spiritual Sequel – and some would argue – prequel) would receive much attention from press, and gamers alike. The game was an opportunity for Takahashi and his wife Soraya Saga to finally deliver on their vision.
The ‘episodical’ way in which the complex story was told alienated people from this series, and Xenosaga 1’s subsequent two episodes fell short commercially when stacked against its own debut success (even though Namco expected higher sales). Monolith Soft would go on to find massive success with the ‘Xeno’ brand in Xenoblade Chronicles on Nintendo systems.
While Xenosaga Episode 1 was a commercial success (and a very good looking JRPG in its day), the game did not feel anywhere near as ‘complete’ or as epic as the original Xenogears, which was the superior game. Furthermore, many will say Xenogears is still the best Xeno title in the entire franchise.
9. Dark Cloud (2000) – 1.2 Million Copies Sold
Dark Cloud is a game that some people truly love, and others are indifferent to it. Had Dark Cloud made it to the PS2’s launch window of releases in 2000 ( as it launched on the US in 2001), it would have sold much better than it did.
Don’t get me wrong, Dark Cloud sold well, as proven by its appearance on this list, but given the PS2’s weak launch lineup this game would have been huge success for PS2 gamers looking for the system’s ‘Zelda’ like competitor.
Dark Cloud focuses on action combat and exploration in randomly generated dungeons, all while rebuilding destroyed lands and fighting the Evil Dark Genie. The Town Building component of the game, and its better than average storyline for an action-RPG (at the time) made it a must buy for PS2 owners looking for a quality RPG in which to sink dozens upon dozens of hours in.
With comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Vagrant Story, Dark Cloud earned itself an 80 Metacritic rating, and a place in PlayStation 2’s RPG history with its commercial success.
8. Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII (2006) – 1.24 Million Copies Sold
Final Fantasy VII (1997) is the game that turned millions of non-RPG gamers into RPG lifers, and thus, Square Enix has milked the game’s good name to no end. Dirge of Cerberus is proof that you can slap the FFVII title to an awful game, and still sell over a million copies.
Make no mistake, while I feel that the entire FFVII: Compilation is mediocre, Crisis Core was a decent game (even if the story was non-sensical in contrast to the original game’s plot), and I enjoyed FFVII: Advent Children. That said, I can’t really excuse Dirge of Cerberus’s mediocrity.
Vincent was one of the coolest characters in Final Fantasy VII, and his backstory was the spark that created many a great fan fiction during the late 90s. Ironically, Square Enix butchered Vincent’s enormous potential in this flashy, but ho-hum, 3rd person shooter/action-RPG hybrid.
I am sure that some one out there (out of the million gamers that bought the title) loved it, but I did not. In fact, I sold this game back to GameStop as quickly as I could after finishing it.
7. Star Ocean: Till The End of Time (2004) – 1.36 Million Copies Sold
Usually, if your predecessor sold well, and was a critical darling, chances are that you will sell well as well. That’s the case with Star Ocean: Till The End of Time (Star Ocean3). Star Ocean 3 was highly anticipated, and in my opinion, the last good, if not great, game in the series.
While Star Ocean 3 did away with the massive over world map of the second title (this was unfortunate), it was one of the more epic JRPGs that could be found on the PlayStation 2, and it was certainly a challenging title that forced me to master its item crafting system in order to develop powerful weapons.
Star Ocean 3 has a solid story,and a likable cast, even if its ending features quite a (disappointing) plot twist. While the game didn’t look quite as good as its contemporary Final Fantasy rivals, SO3’s combat was a exceptionally fast and furious and most importantly, fun (except for the ‘MP kill’ mechanic which delivered death to party members that ran out of MP).
For what its worth, I highly recommend Star Ocean 3 if you are looking for a great PS2 JRPG, and have not had the opportunity to play the game. I am not shocked that it sold so well, Star Ocean: The 2nd Story did a great job in establishing a fine reputation for this series on the original PlayStation.
6. Kingdom Hearts II (2005) – 4.75 Million Copies Sold
I enjoyed Kingdom Hearts II. In truth, this is were the series began to go ‘off the rails’ in terms of storytelling, but it was an excellent game featuring awesome visuals, music, and decent gameplay.
Part of the reason for Kingdom Hearts II being a bit confusing, at first, was the fact that the game took place right after Chain of Memories…a game that most console owners didn’t play (as it was a GBA release). Apart from that, KHII was a worthy sequel to Kingdom Hearts.
Square Enix (once again) managed to merge the best worlds from Disney with their own brand of storytelling in order to create a fun and compelling quest. While I found the original game to have been a better experience (mainly because of the novelty factor), the second game is a true refinement, in terms of gameplay and graphics.
The only downside to KHII is that we had to wait more than a decade for the proper 3rd entry to arrive on PlayStation 4.
5. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (2005) – 4.88 Million Copies Sold
My dislike, and downright hatred for Dragon Quest VII (on the PlayStation 1) is legendary. Therefore, it is saying a lot when I write that Dragon Quest VIII redeemed this series in my eyes from (the disastrous DQVII) the moment that I first started the game.
Unlike DQVII, Journey of the Cursed King had awesome cel-shaded visuals, placing the game on a competitive level with other JRPGs released on the PS2. Level-5 (of Dark Cloud fame) aided in the game’s development making it a much less tedious experience to play than its ‘grind’ intensive predecessor.
While the sales numbers for this title are massively impressive, Dragon Quest remained a small name in the US in 2005. The bulk of Dragon Quest VIII’s sales took place in Japan (where Dragon Quest is king). In terms of its Japanese run, DQVIII sold 3 million copies in just 3 days, and it turned into the eventual best selling PS2 game of all time in that region.
Dragon Quest VIII was not just an improvement in the audio/visual department of the series in contrast to its predecessor, but it was also a massive leap in terms of storytelling and localization work. Dragon Quest VIII, in my opinion, is the game that modernized the series in order to make its games more accessible to western audiences.
4. Final Fantasy X-2 (2003) – 5.4 Million Copies Sold
I am of the opinion that Final Fantasy X needed no sequel, its ending (ambiguous as it was) was perfect. But Square Enix is of the opinion that there is never a wrong time time to milk the living daylights out of something that sells, and Final Fantasy X sold extremely well.
Final Fantasy X-2 cashed on the appeal of its sexy trio of females (Yuna, Rikku, and Lulu) and our fascination with Yuna and Tidus’ love story. Given that this game is a direct sequel to FFX, many of the same assets were used, and I assume that Square made tons of money of that staggering 5.4 million unit sales.
As a game, FFX-2 is not bad. In fact, FFX-2 is quite the polished beast. It has its own take on the traditional FF “Job Class” system, and it is certainly fun to develop you party of gals as you progress through the game. With multiple endings to see (depending on your game’s completion percentage), a strategy guide was a must back in the day if you wanted to get the most out of Final Fantasy’s first direct sequel.
Taken by itself, as a stand alone game, Final Fantasy X-2 is a fun JRPG adventure that will keep you busy for dozens of hours if you want to reach the ‘one true ending’.
3. Kingdom Hearts (2002) – 5.9 Million Copies Sold
Disney + Final Fantasy = $$$. That’s the formula the Square Enix utilized when it conceived this massively successful crossover helmed by the one and only, Tetsuya Nomura. If we go back in time 20 years to 2002, it was difficult for me, as a non Disney fan, to envision how Square would make the odd fusion between these two very different universes work.
To Square and Nomura’s credit, it worked. Gamers were happier for it, and Square and Disney much richer for the game’s commercial success. Unlike Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts ditched turn based combat in favor of action charged battles. Final Fantasy, these days, has made a switch to action combat itself, so perhaps, Kingdom Hearts has been more influential on the more popular series than previously thought.
Kingdom Hearts has all of the drama, and storytelling goodness of a modern (post FFVI) Final Fantasy title, and it blends these strengths with Disney’s own particular charm and wondrous popular universes in a seamless manner. I never thought that I would root for a JRPG party consisting of Donald Duck and Goofy, but I fell in love with these Disney icons. At the same time, I found myself interested in some classic Disney IPs that I would have overlooked had I not played Kingdom Hearts back in 2002.
As of November 2021, The Kingdom Hearts series had sold over 35 million units (Console and mobile entries combined). Wikipedia (the source for this article) lists KH sales at 5.9 million units, but other sources, such as VGChartz, list the sales at 6.4 million which is a considerably better number that would push it beyond our #2 game on this list.
2. Final Fantasy XII (2006) – 6 Million Copies Sold
Final Fantasy XII is one of the oddest Final Fantasy games around, and it is also one of the best. Its sales numbers shouldn’t be surprising, Final Fantasy has always sold well, and it continues to be the best selling JRPG franchise, not named Pokemon (or The Legend of Zelda).
But Final Fantasy XII was odd in the sense that it was the first main (single player) Final Fantasy that wasn’t made under the supervision of series creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and had its aural tracks composed by someone other than Nobuo Uematsu. To put it bluntly, Final Fantasy XII did not feel, look, sound, or play like a Final Fantasy game ‘should’.
The above does not suggest that FFXII wasn’t a great game, because it was, it is perhaps one of the best JRPGs ever made. Still, the game did not feel like a Final Fantasy game, and truth be told, it could be argued that since Final Fantasy X, we haven’t had a main entry on this series that carried the spirit and soul of the first ten entries.
Holding a 92 Metacritic rating, FFXII was better received than Final Fantasy X. The game’s political drama, MMORPG like combat and exploration made it for a unique and deeply satisfying experience with incredibly high production values.
Even if (like me) you didn’t feel that Final Fantasy XII was a true FF game in spirit, you were (in all probability) just as glad to have been able to play this masterpiece 15 years ago, as I was. Final Fantasy XII is a gem, and I am glad that it did good numbers while being confined to a single platform (PS2), at the time.
1. Final Fantasy X (2001) – 8.5 Million Copies Sold
There is a lot of people who bought a PlayStation 2 just because they just had to play the next big Final Fantasy (in this case FFX) entry, and only the PS2 provided that opportunity. I would know, I was one of these people. Gamers born in the mid 1990s, and early 00s will never understand just how important Final Fantasy, as a brand, was to a console in those days.
Final Fantasy VII was major reason behind the PlayStation’s dominance back in the mid to late 1990s. Thus, Final Fantasy X (and the franchise being tied to Sony) was a major reason behind the PlayStation 2’s historic success.
I remember seeing Game Magazine screenshots of FFX and being consistently wowed by the quality of the visuals that FFX promised to deliver at the time. Upon arrival, FFX delivered and surpassed all of my expectations in terms of presentation, and storytelling. In my opinion, FFX succeeded where FFVIII failed, it delivered a heartfelt love story between two of its protagonists that truly tugged some of my heart strings in the game’s heart breaking finale.
Final Fantasy X was a perfect showcase of the PS2’s capabilities, and a great entry in the long running series.
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